New Year's Eve

Chocolate Mud Cake for 2017, 2018 & Every Year From Here On Out

December 28, 2016

Heaven smile upon the dessert that doesn't require a stick or two of room-temperature butter.

I understand, I do, the importance of butter so temperate that I couldn't distinguish it from lip balm—and (Alice Medrich, are you reading this?) I'd never force cold butter into a recipe that doesn't call for it. But still, I often resist babysitting butter.

So when the first step of a recipe calls for melting it, I hop a small celebratory hop. Butter, you're on your own! It's no harm to me if you're oozing because I left you on top of the refrigerator (counterintuitively, a very warm place), or if you're hard as a brick because I neglected to retrieve you from the depths of the freezer. You do what you do, I'll do what I do, and I'll meet you back here at this deeply chocolatey, soft and fudgy cake.

Tara O'Brady describes her Cinnamon Walnut Mud Cake as "bouncy for all its darkness," with "a surprising delicacy" that belies "its brooding looks."

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It was these words that made me file it in my "To Make" recipe list back in 2009. But it was only eight years later, when I needed a special but low-maintenance dessert to make for a weeknight get-together, that I returned to it.

A fudgy underside is layered with a cracked and crumbly, mousse-like top, with airy texture that immediately melts upon contact with the tongue.
Tara O'Brady

I chose Tara's cake because it's made in four, fancy-equipment-free steps: Melt the butter with the chocolate (since they're heated together, you don't need to MacGyver a double boiler). Stir together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Whisk the eggs with the sugar. And then mix the eggs into the chocolate, fold in the dry ingredients, and let some chopped toasted walnuts take up the caboose.

But while I picked the cake for its ease, I love it for its character (and, also, its ease!). Simple steps (and pantry ingredients) produce a cake that's chocolatey but not bitter, moist but with a sandy quality, and with a textural divide that makes it like the pillow-top mattress of desserts, its lighter, impressionable top supported by a firmer, fudgier undergirding.

Top with whipped cream or, as Tara suggests, barely-sweetened sour cream. Photo by Mark Weinberg

It might be, oh, 800 years old in internet time, requiring no skill greater than cracking an egg, no special equipment, and certainly no butter babysitting, but in my world, it's timeless.

What's your favorite type of chocolate cake: dense and flourless or tall and fluffy? Tell us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Abby Krim
    Abby Krim
  • Adam Janowski
    Adam Janowski
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Abby K. January 2, 2018
Has anyone made this without the Walnuts? We’re a nut free house. Was wondering if it holds up. Thanks!
Adam J. December 30, 2017
I would spread a layer of Nutella on top of the cake before adding the whipped cream. True decadence.